Migrants and Housing in the UK: Experiences and Impacts

2nd October 2014
Next update
02/10/2015
Press contact
Rob McNeil

This briefing reviews the evidence on migration and housing in the UK.

Key Points

  • The foreign-born population has significantly lower ownership rates (43% were home owners in 2013) than the UK-born (69%).
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  • The foreign-born population is almost three times as likely to be in the private rental sector (38% were in this sector in 2013), compared to the UK-born (14%).
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  • UK-born and foreign-born individuals living in London tend to have smaller home ownership rates, and a higher likelihood of being in the rental and social housing sector relative to the rest of the UK.
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  • Recent migrants (i.e. those who have been in the UK for five years or less) are more than twice as likely to be renters (80% were in the private rental sector in 2013), compared to other migrants. Those migrants who have been in the UK longer tend to have accommodation similar to that of the UK-born.
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  • UK-born and foreign-born individuals have similar levels of participation in social housing (about 17% of UK-born individuals and 18% of foreign-born individuals were in social housing during 2013).
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  • Recent evidence suggests that immigration decreases house prices in England and Wales. This impact is likely to be the result of UK-born residents moving out of the areas with a large migrant concentration.
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Understanding the evidence

The determinants of migrants’ experiences in and impacts on the UK housing system include many factors such as migrants’ characteristics (e.g. age, income level, type of visa, time in the UK), preferences (e.g. household size, renting versus owning, minimum acceptable level of quality of accommodation) and restrictions of access to social housing. Therefore, different types of migrants, with different rights, opportunities and resources are likely to have very different experiences in and impacts on the UK housing system.

Positive net migration may affect house prices and rents. In the case of social housing, where there is no price mechanism, positive net migration can lead to a shortage or increase shortage of social housing. The magnitudes of these impacts depend on the responsiveness of the supply of housing to changes in demand. The impact of immigration on housing can also be expected to vary across local areas with different housing markets and experiencing different scales of migrant inflows and outflows. There can also be important inter-relationships between the owner occupier sector and the private rented sector. For example, the increased demand for rented accommodation may encourage more investors to enter the buy-to-let market, which in turn could increase house prices. 

The UK imposes limitations on access to public benefits, including social housing, for some types of migrants. In most instances, recent migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) cannot claim social housing benefits. Non-eligible migrants may still increase the demand for social housing by displacing the eligible population from the private rental sector.

 

Foreign-born individuals have lower ownership rates than UK-born individuals and greater representation in the rental sector

Figure 1 shows the types of accommodation reported by UK-born and foreign-born individuals in the 2013 Labour Force Survey. Foreign-born individuals have significantly lower ownership rates (43% are home owners) than the UK-born (69% are home owners). On the other hand, foreign-born individuals are three times as likely to be in the private rental sector (38% rent), compared to the UK-born (14% rent).

Figure 1

Note: The shares may not add to 100 due to rounding.

A comparison of the results for London versus the rest of the UK, suggests that for both, UK-born and foreign-born individuals, those living in London tend to have smaller home ownership rates, and a higher likelihood of being in the rental sector and social housing.

Figure 2

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Recent migrants are more than twice as likely to be renters compared to other migrants

Given the different characteristics of recent migrants to the UK compared with previous incoming migrant groups, it is likely that recent cohorts of migrants differ in terms of their housing experiences from previous ones. The evidence presented in Figure 3 suggests that those migrants who entered the UK recently (i.e. five years ago or less) differ significantly from the 'all foreign-born' group in regards to type of accommodation. These recent migrants are more than twice as likely to be renters (80% rent) compared to all migrants. Yet, those who have been in the UK longer tend to have housing accommodation that is closer to that of the UK-born. In fact, the housing accommodation of those who have been in the UK for 20 years or more is very similar to that of the UK-born.

These differences in accommodation for different cohorts of migrants may reflect a degree of convergence over time of migrant accommodation with the UK-born accommodation, but it is not possible to draw such a conclusion from these cross-sectional data. Research on the housing pathways of new immigrants in the UK suggest, however, that most new migrants moved into temporary accommodation upon arrival. Migrants that are only staying for a short period in the UK may tolerate living in overcrowded conditions or even in low quality housing. However, after realising that their stay in the UK could be permanent it is common for migrants to look for better housing choices including particular neighbourhoods and avoiding sharing accommodation with other families (Robinson et al. 2007).

Figure 3

Note: shares may not add to 100 due to rounding. "years < 5" indicates less than 5 years in the UK, "5 <= years < 10" indicates 5 years or more, but less than 10 years in the UK,"10 <= years < 20", indicates 10 years or more, but less than 20 years in the UK, "years => 20" indicates 20 years or more in the UK.

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UK-born individuals and foreign-born individuals have similar levels of participation in social housing

Not all migrants are eligible for social housing. In order to be eligible, migrants must have, in general, settlement status or be a national of the EEA (see the Housing Rights Information website for details about the different housing rights of migrants). As shown in Figure 1, about 17% of UK-born and 18% of foreign-born individuals live in social housing. While there are variations, these participation rates are stable over time. As shown in Figure 4, it seems that for both groups, women tend to have a slightly higher propensity to live in social housing than men. These relationships also hold for UK-nationals compared to foreign-nationals.

Figure 4

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The Centre for Economic Performance (2010) estimates that migrants are 5% less likely than the UK-born to be in social housing on arrival after controlling for migrant’s characteristics. They also find that the probability of migrants using social housing benefits increases by 0.08% per year in the UK.

While there are no major differences in the use of social housing between the foreign-born and the UK-born populations, there have been claims in the popular press that migrants often receive priority status in the allocation of social housing. Several studies have failed to find evidence supporting this claim (e.g. Battiston et al. 2014, Rutter and Latorre 2009, Robinson 2010). However, some migrant groups are more likely to have the characteristics required to gain priority for social housing and this is one of the reasons for the claim that migrants often receive priority status. Social housing allocation policies vary by location, making it difficult to generalise these findings.

Evidence suggests that immigration decreases house prices in England and Wales

Sá (2014) finds that immigration has a negative effect on house prices in England and Wales. Her estimates suggest that a 1% increase in the migrant share the population in an area reduces house prices by almost 2%. The author suggests that this dynamic is the result of UK-born residents moving out of areas with increasing migrant concentration. The negative effect of immigration on house prices is particularly strong in areas in areas with a large concentration of low-educated migrants.

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Evidence gaps and limitations

Immigration may also affect the mix of houses sold at any point in time. For instance, immigration may lead to an increase in additional sales of low quality houses, which when considered as a whole may suggest a reduction in the average price of houses in the area but it is the result of a change in the mix of houses in the market.  Given the lack of information on the prices of the houses that are currently out of the market there remains great uncertainty about the impact of immigration on house prices. In addition, while immigration may affect the price of housing in a certain area, it is likely that the price of housing affects immigration decisions. Therefore, it is challenging to establish a causal relationship between the price of housing and the level of immigration. Finally, wealthy foreign citizens own a considerable share of London’s high-end property market, yet there is not much information about the impact of immigration at the top end of the housing market.

Thanks to Sue Lukes, Professor Steven Nickell, John Perry and Matthew Pollard for helpful comments on an earlier version for this briefing.

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References

  • Battiston, D., R. Dickens, A. Manning and J. Wadsworth. "Immigration and the Access to Social Housing in the UK." Centre for Economic Performance, London, 2014.
  • Centre for Economic Performance. "Immigration and the UK Labour Market: The Evidence from Economic Research." Centre for Economic Performance, London, 2010.
  • Robinson, D. "New Immigrants and Migrants in Social Housing in Britain: Discursive Themes and Lived Realities." Policy and Politics 38, no. 1 (2010). 
  • Rutter, J. and M. Latorre. "Social Housing Allocation and Immigrant Communities." Equality and Human Rights Commission, Manchester, 2009. 
  • Sa, P. "Immigration and House Prices in the UK." The Economic Journal (forthcoming 2014).

Press contact

If you would like to make a press enquiry, please contact:
Rob McNeil
+ 44 (0)1865 274568
+ 44 (0)7500 970081
robert.mcneil@compas.ox.ac.uk